Once upon a time in America, indie movies were scrappy, strange little things. We're talking Easy Rider, we're talking Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song -- movies a world away from the star-laden formulaic crap being churned out these days by many of the so-called indie studios (Cold Mountain or The Human Stain, anyone?). Thankfully, in an area stuffed to bursting with fine film festivals there are still choices for lovers of the unconventional, and this week's Film Arts Festival of Independent Cinema is a perfect example.
Would more mainstream fests warm to a picture like Girl Trouble, an insider's look at San Francisco's juvenile justice system through the eyes of three teenage girls? Or IPO, a giddy satire of the Bay Area's dot-com delusions, which combines improv acting and hand-held digi-cam cinematography for a pseudo-documentary about a faux start-up? Or Quality of Life, which casts our city's graffiti culture as a milieu for artistic expression rather than a means of destruction? Equally iconoclastic are four shorts programs, with selections that address issues from the topical (gay marriage, the Iraq war) to the defiantly noncommercial (many of the films in Saturday's "Outside the Box" program lack any sort of narrative). It all adds up to a series custom-made for choosy cinéasteswith a taste for something original. Programs begin Nov. 11 at 6 p.m. with the "ReDeclaration of Independents Gala Celebration" at Mighty, 119 Utah (at 15th St.), S.F. Admission is $100-125. Screenings run Nov. 12-14 at the Roxie (3117 16th St.) and Castro (429 Castro) theaters; tickets are $8-25. For all events, call 552-3456 or visit www.filmarts.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
It's in Your Hands
"Think of us as the no-budget Teatro ZinZanni," urges Russell Howze of the dinner-theater show Funky Puppet Supper. For a scant $20 diners are urged to build their own mannequins from ready supplies, then watch a puppet-and-human play unfold while they eat. The performance, The Devil Take Them, is a loose adaptation of Goethe's Faust legend that slyly comments on current political imbroglios. But what viewers may enjoy most is the staff's policy of ignoring humans in favor of speaking directly with their puppets. Try on your best funny voice at 6:30 p.m. at Cellspace, 2050 Bryant (at 18th St.), S.F. Admission is $20; call (510) 923-9439 or visit www.cellspace.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Ginger Peach has the power to infuriate indie-boy music snobs. Her intentionally spare drumming in Glass Candy and the Shattered Theatre drives 'em nuts. It's neither macho nor show-offy (the band's Web site touts the fact that its first album, Love Love Love, didn't include a single drum fill), but it's still really, really cool. You can just imagine the tantrums that have been thrown over this, but all that pissy complaining hasn't stopped Glass Candy from ruling the art-rock/no-wave/death disco scene. The Chromatics and Kayo Dot open at 10 p.m. at the Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk (at Post), S.F. Admission is $7; call 923-0923 or visit www.hemlocktavern.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Horny Horny Hippos
Christopher Stout's "Unbridled! 2" is a photography show featuring stuffed hippopotamuses in sexual poses, which sounds like the exact opposite of subtlety or taste -- but disturbingly entertaining. The hippos (which look a little like Beanie Babies) definitely appear to be doin' it, getting busy in tableaux suggesting surreptitious-sex scenarios like "Internet Explorer: Dorm Room Study Break" (a "student," a bottle of lube, you get the picture). Sick and wrong, yes, but also totally hilarious. The opening reception begins at 6 p.m. (the show continues through Nov. 30) at the Brickhouse Cafe, 426 Brannan (at Fourth St.), S.F. Admission is free; call 369-0222 or visit www.christopherstout.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser